The decision of Serbia’s ruling Progressive Party to call early elections is a logical political move. Months of torture in the media on the “dilemma” of whether to hold early elections, or not, finally are over.

We all knew the elections were coming. Which party in the world wouldn’t call an election when its leader has so successfully presented himself as the national savior and has such high ratings?

Aleksandar Vucic is in his moment, and it is time now for him to secure his position in politics for years to come. His future post will not be any old post; probably he will run the government for the next two mandates, and we all know what that means – complete control of every political and economic process in the country.

Sounds familiar? Boris Tadic, the former President of Serbia and former leader of the Democratic Party, had his moment back in 2004, and again in 2008 – a moment that seemed to last forever.

Although Tadic never became Prime Minister, he ruled from the shadows, from the Presidency. Meanwhile, the evil Radicals, who we were taught to vote against in the Nineties, transformed themselves into the Progressives on Tadic’s watch, and with his support.

Now the roles have reversed and it is the Democratic Party that is being presented as the lesser evil, by default. The Serbian Progressive Party, of course, does not present itself as evil at all; they are in a mood, they claim, to save the nation and its future.

However, what the Progressive Party does not understand, like so many parties before like, is that without democratic institutions that work independently of the political balance of power, we cannot claim to be a real democracy.

Not being in a state of war, which part of the Serbian public once proclaimed as the great goal, is not enough for a normal, civilized life. People do not just die from wars but from the poverty and depression caused by inhuman living conditions.

The last time we went to polls a small but loud, informal group of individuals understood that switching from the Democrats to the Progressives, or vice-versa, would not bring about vital change. So, we decided to vote blank – to participate in the elections, but not give anyone our last resort, our ballot.

An atmosphere in which the only remaining right in political life is to withhold your ballot speaks for itself. Only prisoners have only passive rights in political decision-making – to vote but not be voted for.

I was personally satisfied to see so many blank votes on polling day in May 2012. Naively, I believed it would ring alarm bells, and that the political class would react. I believed that would be the case at least with the democratic, liberal wing of the political sphere.

Unfortunately, since 2012, we have witnessed the self-destruction of the opposition parties, which tried to become “attractive”, or “constructive”, as they termed it, to the ruling party of Aleksandar Vucic and so survive in the new political environment.

They had ample opportunities to make the right move and convince us that they had understood their past mistakes, which would have been a signal for us to perhaps consider supporting them again. However, as time went by, they only brought further disappointment.

Meanwhile, our political enemies, Vucic and Ivica Dacic, started negotiations with the EU and signed the Brussels agreement, more or less recognizing the independence of the Republic of Kosovo. We were all surprised with these results, which we’d been expecting for years from Tadic’s Democrats. Instead, the results came from the least expected side. However, the responsibility of the Socialists and the Progressives for the wars and genocide of the former Yugoslavia remains intact. Additionally, they did almost nothing to set up institutions that would work independently of the will of the most powerful individuals and groups in the country. Public affairs remain a one-man show, so the strong link between politics and every part of public life is unbroken. In fact, besides the Brussels agreement and beginning of negotiations with the EU, which are important accomplishments, the Dacic-Vucic government has failed in everything else.

What actual difference has occurred in society or our way of life since 2012? Were there any substantial reforms? I would say things are much as they were before 2012. And, if so little has changed, I believe we should vote blank again. We have shown that we are capable of replacing one party with another and one President with another, but beside that, the mechanisms of state still function solely on the will of political parties and a few powerful individuals. Are we going to participate in the further empowerment of this system of government, and give parties that openly present themselves as owners of our lives legitimacy and our support?

The role, importance and influence of our weak civil society will be tested once again during the coming period of campaigning. Influential individuals, intellectuals, opposition leaders and other opinion makers will have to pick a side and campaign for it – or not consent to settle for this and call on people to vote blank again.

So far, it seems that blank voting this year will be an individual act, not supported by anyone in the public sphere, even though the attitude of the political elites towards us, and their power, remain unchanged. They still consider us their prisoners who they will call on only when they need to – when the polls open.

In the meantime, our voices will remain silenced or muted in the cacophony of Serbian public life, and we have not real power to influence actions that decisively affect our lives. After Vucic’s likely victory in the spring, nothing will be the same, but the same goes if we decide to support Djilas. Our political leaders are all products of a poor political culture and overall circumstances that they are also responsible for.

However, we should keep in mind that we also have some responsibility, when deciding which side to support, if any. Settling with any of current political parties, and believing that choosing between greater or lesser “evils” will cause important social and political change – processes that we desperately need – will not solve our problems. It will only postpone the beginning of the process of emancipating ourselves as responsible citizens.

Two years ago, just after the last elections, I believed that some new, modern and liberal political power would either arise, or at least that our former political protégés would come to senses and show themselves in a new, more trustworthy light. Instead, we had two years of them struggling to distribute power, influence and wealth. That is why I believe that we should not settle for them and give them any reason to believe that they are our only hope.

I may be lonely in holding this opinion during the campaign and on election day. Nevertheless, the importance of blank voting in 2014 is more significant now than ever. It is the only way to show whether we have agreed to remain prisoners in our own country – or not.

BalkanInsight, 05.02.2014.

Pešč, 10.02.2014.